JARS v58n2 - Commentary: What the Bees Know that We Don't

Commentary: What the Bees Know that We Don't
Merle Sanders
Roseburg, Oregon

Our Creator made bees to collect pollen and make it into honey, which is something most of us love to eat from time to time but few us have the courage to gather. In the process of collecting pollen for honey the bees pollinate the different plants to keep the species going. From watching the bees man learned to hybridize. But unlike the bees we can be selective. Our Creator has allowed us the ability to create new and, I hope, better plants.

But the bees are still smarter than we are. Take Rhododendron 'Taurus', for example. Everyone knows that 'Taurus' does not set seed. That's why there are no 'Taurus' hybrids. But imagine what this plant could produce. I have heard that someone came up with the idea that if you wire a branch tightly, the branch "thinks" that it is going to die and will produce seed. I don't remember whether they had any success or not. But I never had.

Now come the smart bees. I was surprised a few years back while deadheading 'Taurus' to find a few seed pods. I grew some plants, but before I got them in the ground they got too wet and died. The next year I sent seed to Jim Barlup. He raised a few seeds that are still growing. Recently I phoned him and he said one is showing the red stem color of 'Taurus'. He also had a few others that were not as nice as this large one. As we talked he mentioned that Hank Schannen had tried for years to hybridize it. But a year or two ago he said he had some success. Why? Could it be that the plant had finally matured, or was there some unknown factor? Only the bees seem to know. My 'Taurus' is 12 feet tall and the bees are able to hybridize it, but I have never been able to.

Jim Smith has raised some of the seed. He has some plants and sent me back a plant that is 5 inches tall at one year and very husky. Both Jim and Harold Greer are raising seed from last fall. They both have some plants growing. Although not many plants grow from these seeds the plants they do produce will be very interesting.

Also, the bees do a much better job of getting pollen to 'Fire Rim' (a new Barlup cross) than I ever could. This year it has about a half dozen large seed pods and there must be at least a dozen seed pods on my plant of 'Taurus'. So what do the bees know that we don't? How much smarter are they? What type of plants will these rare seeds produce? You can find out for yourself. I will gladly share seed with anyone. Supply is limited.